“Students who do well in such a system recognize they are being judged largely on their command of the rules of the game, which reward aptitude rather than sustained effort in the pursuit of clear expectations. All systems have a code; the job of the student is to break it. Some do, some don’t.”

 -Richard Elmore

When I was reading the article by Richard Elmore, the above quotation stood out to me as an astute observation of the United States educational system. The system of accountability and standardized test make education a game to be won, and as long as you know the rules you stand a pretty good chance. Students are succeeding because they know how to take standardized tests, not because they are engaged in learning.

Standardized tests very rarely test content knowledge well. They test your ability to read a question and eliminate the choices that do not make sense. Frequently you are able to get the right answer with rudimentary understanding of the concept as long as you have good test taking skills. More and more often, teachers are taking time out of their day to teach test taking strategies. This is really beneficial to those who grasp these concepts. What about the students who do not understand these strategies? Well they are out of luck.

Teachers are taking time away from the meat of the curriculum in order to cater to a test. A test that is typically biased towards middle class white Americans. These standardized tests give a strong disadvantage to ELL, minorities, and the lower class. Learning the rules is much harder for these groups of students, because the rules entail knowing cultural norms to understand the questions.

The standards movement was created to give everyone an equal playing field, but this is not what ended up happening. In fact, the playing field might be more unequal than ever, and the stakes of the game are through the roof. Students are playing for funding, for teachers jobs, and for a spot in a top university —how else are you supposed to get a job in this economy? This is a lot of pressure to put on students who may already be struggling to begin with. If they do not pass then the whole school goes down with them.

While some students are starting from behind, others have mastered the art of test taking by the third grade. At this point they never have to really learn anything ever again. They pick out the main points they need to know for the test and scrap the rest. They use the process of elimination during the multiple choice section and fill their essays full of buzz words. Then, as soon as they put their pencils down they forget everything they have learned. This is not a sustainable method of education. Students are not making meaningful connections to what they are learning and they are not learning any thing of substance.

The real problem in America is not that teachers are teaching to the test, but that students are learning to the test.